What Happens to Your Body When You Wear Heels

If you’re among those who just can’t say no to a good pair of high heels, it should come as no surprise that there’s quite a lot of pain involved. You know the signs — the pinching, the cramping, the strain while carefully teetering across grass and steel grates in stilettos.

High heels take a serious physical toll on the body. And it’s not just your feet that suffer. In fact, wearing high heels on a regular basis causes a negative ripple effect throughout the musculoskeletal system, from the balls of your feet to your neck.

Here’s what happens to your body when you wear heels, from the ground up.

Your Feet

When you walk in a high-heeled shoe there is increased pressure under the big toe joint (also known as the ball of your foot) and less pressure out by the pinky toe. This imbalance often causes bunions — no one wants those!

Other problems include issues like plantar fasciitis or ‘heel spur syndrome,’ as well as Haglund’s Deformity, in which a hard bump forms at the back of the heel where the edge of the shoe would sit.

Some of this, of course, has to do with the style of the shoe itself. Heels with narrowed or pointed toe boxes are often the most problematic, as they force the toes into unnatural positions.

Your Knees

Consider your center of gravity for a moment. When you stand firmly planted with your feet flat on the ground, your body should sit in true alignment, centered from head to toe. High heels set everything off kilter.

“High heels put the foot at an angle and pull muscles and joints out of alignment, so the effects aren’t limited to the feet,” explains Dr. Surve, a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine and co-director of the Texas Center for Performing Arts Health, “It’s not unusual for people who spend lots of time in high heels to have low back, neck, and shoulder pain because the shoes disrupt the natural form of the body.”

models wearing high heels

Your Legs

And that’s not all. Besides wearing down cartilage in the knee and exacerbating knee arthritis, wearing high heels for long periods of time can cause your leg muscles to shorten and lengthen in odd places over time.

Associate Professor Lloyd Reed from the QUT School of Clinical Sciences in podiatry told The Huffington Post in Australia, “So far as your legs are concerned, you’re going to stretch out the muscles in front, tighten and shorten the muscles in the back, and you’re going to cause the legs and ankles to swell.” No good.

Your Back

While a conclusion remains to be reached in the scientific community, there is some evidence that the back is put under more stress when you wear heels.

Some studies suggest that the curve in the lower back (called lumbar lordosis) is intensified while wearing higher heeled shoes, while others demonstrate an increase in muscle activity in the thoracic region of the spine and neck.

Podiatrist Recommendations

The physical toll caused by wearing high heels is so extreme in some cases that most podiatrists suggest you throw them out all together. Others suggest opting for shoes that have a wide block heel or wedge heel (stilettos are definitely a no-go) and an open shape that is less likely to cause cramping of the toes.

Regardless, they all suggest staying off your feet as much as possible and only wearing shoes that are fitted properly.

“You are less likely to have long-term damage from wearing heels just for one day, but if you aren’t strong, are overweight, or are borrowing a pair of your friend’s shoes that don’t really fit, you could see serious damage, says Jacqueline Sutera, podiatrist and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association. 

In the end, it’s probably better to just strut your stuff another way.

Do you wear high heels? Why or why not?

Images via Thinkstock.


Marie W
Marie W9 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Ellen J
Ellen Jabout a year ago

Oy! I don't wear high heels. Tennis shoes/trainers and Crocs are my shoes of choice, even for work. I love going barefoot, at least in my house. Not so much outside due to fire ants.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a year ago

Don’t wear them anymore.

Margie F
Margie FOURIEabout a year ago

Havent worn high heels in ages

Megan S
Megan Sabout a year ago

I've never liked the pointy toed and thin heeled stilettos anyways. I prefer wedges; I imagine they're still not great for your posture but its more support.

Megan S
Megan Sabout a year ago

I'm too tall to wear high heels... its a shame because they look so glamourous, but I suppose my feet will thank me later lol

Dennis Hall
Dennis Habout a year ago

The visual theory is that high heels make the leg appear longer, reminding the viewer of adolescence (a highly-sexually-charged time in life) during which the leg grows faster than all other parts of the body (the rest catching up later) – hence, the association between sexual virility and high-heeled shoes.

The stiletto was designed by Roger Vivier, who worked for Christian Dior, using plastic innovations to create a slender heel of incredible strength — which he called “the needle.” Balancing on a 'needle' with your toes way below your heel? Crazy. I've done it and I pity women who still work in companies that will, legally, fire a woman if she does not wear high-heels. I'm aghast that so many women are forced to ruin their feet for pleasure of strangers. And it's legal.

It should be illegal to force women to wear high heels as they greatly compromise her health.

A bunion is a severe deformity caused by pointy shoes. Have you looked at the feet of women who wear pointy-toed, high-heels for decades? Repulsive. Bunched-up, deformed toes. The appearance of a longer leg , visually, with the visual reality of the foot is nasty and gnarly.

Only some surgeries can help to relieve foot deformities that result from overuse. For wearing that pretty shoe designed by a man who never wore them, you get pains for life. Totally avoidable.

Angela K
Angela Kabout a year ago

thank you for posting

Renata B
Renata Babout a year ago

Pleased to say that I have never worn stilettos or whatever you want to call them in my entire life. Terrible. It is like being an acrobat in a circus. no, thank you. I would definitely break my neck. It's mad.

Filomena C
Filomena Cabout a year ago